When Anders Behring Breivik went on a shooting spree that left 69 dead at a Norwegian summer camp a year ago, he left behind a manifesto that ran to 1,518 densely typed pages. In it, he proselytized his conviction that Muslims will make up a majority of Europe’s population by 2080.
Breivik’s alarmist sentiments were hardly original and stemmed from the writings and blogs of many mainstream right-wing western writers, including Daniel Pipes, Patrick Buchanan and Canadian Mark Steyn.
The core of their widely popular beliefs is that Muslim immigrants are increasing their numbers, are loyal only to Islam and promote a political agenda that will destroy our traditions and freedoms. In short, they argue, we are about to be swept by a Muslim tide.
But, writes Doug Saunders in his book The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten The West (Knopf Canada), the idea of a stealth takeover by Islamic believers is a delusion. Muslim immigrants, he sets out to prove, are no more different than the earlier larger waves of religious minorities, particularly Roman Catholics and Jews.
In fact, like Breivik’s manifesto, the arguments brought forth by the right wing bloggers aren’t entirely original either. The arrival of millions of people from poor religious minority backgrounds in western countries has always ben a traumatic affair, one that has bred fear, ignorance and prejudice
American Freedom and Catholic Power, a bestselling book in the 1950s in America, stated that Catholics would eventually gain control of the presidency and install divine law, making the United States a Catholic republic.
I need not remind readers of the claims made about Jewish immigrants – that they were a disloyal, fast-breeding fifth column bent upon imposing foreign religious laws to “Jewify” the society around them.
Saunders, a Globe and Mail correspondent and author of Donner Prize-winning Arrival City, sets about disputing the claims one by one, using facts from scores of demographic studies, surveys and historical documentation to prove his points. Saunders says he’s not out to defend Islam, but rather to debunk the myths and also highlight the genuinely alarming facts.
The book follows a consistent pattern. He begins with one of these alarmist myths, provides a quote or two from the writers that espouse it and then goes about debunking it.
The key argument used by the “Muslim-tiders” is that the Muslim majority in the West is growing fast and will soon become a majority in Europe. They believe that Europe is on the verge of becoming “Eurabia.”
For instance, Canadian conservative commentator Steyn, Saunders says, has recently argued that every European under the age of 75 is all but guaranteed to end his or her days living in an Islamified Europe. In a 2010 campaign speech during his run for the U.S Republican presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich referenced “stealth jihad,” the idea that Muslims are taking over the West by immigration and breeding.
Saunders sets to debunk this by using various studies and statistics.
He examines one study conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center and concludes that “there are no signs of Muslims becoming a European majority or even a very large minority.”
Muslims currently make up less than four per cent of the population of the European Union. Examining studies and surveys, Saunders says the rate of Muslim growth will probably level off and reach around eight per cent by 2050.
Things aren’t much different in North America. In the United States, the Muslim population will double over the next 20 years, but that would still leave them at less than two per cent of the general population, around the same as Jews.
In Canada, the Muslim population is expected to triple to just 6.6 per cent of the population in 20 years.
None of the studies (including one by the U.S. Congressional Research Service) predict anything close to a Muslim majority.
Muslims, Saunders argues, are also not reproducing faster than any other people. While he admits that immigrants do tend to have larger families, this stops within a generation or two, and Muslims in the West are not having more babies than the indigenous population. There is no conspiracy of deliberate growth, no invasion by reproductive means.
He highlights one alarmist fact that went viral recently. In 2010 a report showed that the most common name for newborn boys in Britain was Mohammed. This was evidence that fuelled the conspiracy theorists’ claim that Muslims were taking over the population.
While this statistic was correct, the alarmists ignored the fact that Muslims tend to have far less variety in their names than non-Muslims. Generally, non-Muslims have preferences for unusual, unique names, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a Snooki or a Moon Unit in Muslim households.
In 2010, Saunders writes, the year that Mohammed was the most popular name for newborns in Britain, Muslim boys made up just one per cent of British newborns.
Saunders also points out that Muslim immigrants are following the same trends as earlier ethnic immigration: from big families and rapid growth in the first couple of decades to “a gradual blending into the fertility patterns of the host population later on.”
In the same manner he debunks several other misconceptions:
Immigration, he says, is not a Muslim monopoly, and certainly not an Islamic plot. Most immigrants to the West are not Muslim (the only exception being France, due to its former North African colonies).
Muslim immigrants, he also argues, are not overwhelmingly guided by their religious beliefs. In France, for instance, less than five per cent of Muslims attend a mosque every Friday. Almost no French Muslims send their children to separate Islamic schools, and 42 per cent of French Muslims support the ban on hijabs and other religious items in schools.
In America, he says, “even on the explosive issue of Palestinian-Israeli relations, Muslim immigrants are abandoning the views of their home countries and falling into the American mainstream.
“In general, while [Muslim] values still lag behind those of non-immigrant neighbours… immigrants of Muslim origin are very clearly progressing toward integration at a rapid pace.”
The loyalties of most Muslim immigrants are not tied to their birthplace or religion, Saunders says, and Muslims are not isolating themselves into ghettoes or “parallel societies” out of choice (though he concedes that poverty does drive them into low income housing). He also dismisses the claim that terrorism is a natural and inevitable extension of fundamentalist Islamic faith.
In his well-researched book, Saunders is saying that while there are some legitimate fears and we should be vigilant, we should not forget our own immigrant experiences. Tides come and go, he warns. The same pattern is repeated.
By the very nature of the work, the reader will be overwhelmed with numbers and percentages, and arguably numbers can be misleading, Otherwise, this concise, slim volume is easily accessible, and because it sets out to disprove popular, but misguided, hateful messages, it should be placed on the must-read list, lest we repeat previous tragedies.